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How to Create a Fun and Effective Classroom Culture

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Desktop Calendar at HOD

Greek philosopher Socrates, generally acknowledged as the father of modern education, shared the following piece of wisdom with his students:  

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”   

Even though he lived over 2500 years ago, his words are just as meaningful today and can be applied to the 21st-century classroom, especially when nurturing an atmosphere of not only teaching but learning in a safe, collaborative setting, open to new ideas, and communicating without risk.  

Teachers prepare for the new school year in a variety of ways. They organize supplies, position desks and tables, and decorate their classrooms all in expectation of a new group of students crossing the threshold into a welcoming learning environment. Colorful posters on the walls or a personalized desktop calendar filled with lesson plans are an excellent start in creating a successful classroom, but there are critical elements recommended for establishing an effective culture that sets the tone for the year. Include in your academic calendar best practices to meet these objectives.  

 The ABCs of Classroom Culture 

It is easy for teachers to express that they want their classrooms to be a fun, safe learning environment, but often still need to create a strategy that aligns with curriculum expectations combined with whom they will be instructing. The time and effort needed to begin may seem tedious at first, but the rewards will be almost immediate once the school year begins.  

Think about the classroom environment you want for your students. They need to walk into the room and know they are in a safe, inclusive atmosphere that brims with positive energy and inspires acceptance. It may sound simple, but a cheerful “Good morning!” from the teacher can go a long way in setting the tone. And once you learn the students’ names, “Good morning, Liam!” or “Good morning, Ava!” further builds their sense of belonging.  

Get to know your students individually and as a group. Reinforce your message that they are valued and that their ideas are welcome. Once students feel reassured that they are in a non-threatening and collaborative space they will be more likely to engage with their lessons as well as with the teacher and their peers.  

Communicating expectations regarding the curriculum as well as behavior provides the general framework upon which teachers can convey to their students. Let your students know what they will be learning each day and week and that you want them to do well, but it must be a team effort. Ask them what they want to learn and add their suggestions to a list the entire classroom can see. A little ownership on their part can impact their engagement with the curriculum and contributing something useful.  

Often being prescriptive with a set of rules is not always the most effective approach to creating a culture of well-behaved kids. Let’s face it- we all sometimes interrupt and talk out of turn or laugh at inappropriate times. But if children have a stake in creating the atmosphere of the classroom, they are more likely to comply.   

Ask students about good and bad behavior. Is it okay to interrupt the teacher? Is it bad to call a classmate a mean name? Teachers and students can create a list- a sort of contract- they all agree to follow. Remind students that good behavior helps everyone to learn, and that bad behavior has the converse effect, which results in consequences that are not fun. Consistent, equitable adherence to classroom rules that include good behavior and respect for others will establish the boundaries needed for a level playing field conducive to achieving shared goals.  

Classroom Culture Meets Curriculum 

Every school in every school district has a curriculum to follow that encompasses specific objectives and goals ideally leading to student success. Now say that to a student and you might as well say it is nap time. Stay away from the education standards terminology and steer your language to what lands in their wheelhouse. Boost their excitement with your own enthusiasm and inform them of all the interesting things they will be learning throughout the year.  

Once again, ownership regarding the subjects to be taught will carry a lot of weight with engagement and retention. For example, explain that everyone will be learning how to add fractions, learn the process of photosynthesis, and follow the journey of Lewis and Clark for the first grading period of the school year. When tackling these subjects ask students what they want to learn and connect their suggestions to real-world experience. Mark the path of Lewis and Clark on a map of the United States as you retell their history. Bring in plants that use photosynthesis and show students what happens to a plant that is denied sunlight. Include in the math lessons a celebration of Pi Day with some actual pie. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and students will engage with both practicality and wonder.  

Teach the Teacher   

Even though teachers might seem like they know everything under the sun to a classroom of impressionable students, remind them that everyone- including their teachers- is still learning. American science educator Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” This observation can apply to all the kids in your classroom and initiate a collaborative activity where the students become the teachers. Of course, they may want to teach you how to blow a perfect bubble or show you the various levels of Minecraft, but the point is that they have the knowledge to share and that teaching and learning are a two-way street.  

Are you prepared to begin the process of creating an inviting, engaging classroom culture? Pull out your pocket planner and start doodling on your doodle pad. Organize your personalized desktop calendar to reflect your plans for a classroom culture that inspires learning.